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William Wians

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William Wians

Abstract

I shall argue that, according to Aristotle, the knowledge we may attain is profoundly qualified by our status as human knowers. Throughout the corpus, Aristotle maintains a separation of knowledge at the broadest level into two kinds, human and divine. The separation is not complete—human knowers may enjoy temporarily what god or the gods enjoy on a continuous basis; but the division expresses a fact about humanity's place in the cosmos, one that imposes strict conditions on what we may know, with what degree of certainty, and in what areas. While passages bearing on human knowledge are familiar, looking at them collectively and in comparison with certain other well known Aristotelian doctrines may significantly affect how we understand the goals of his philosophy and why our hopes for reaching them must be limited.

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William Wians

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Many scholars have found Aristotle’s explanation of parental resemblance in De Generatione Animalium to be inconsistent with the hylomorphic theory of sexual differentiation developed in GA I. The later passage claims that the female imparts motions of her own through the material she contributes, while the earlier account seems to assign all form-imparting motions to the father, limiting the female’s contribution to passive, inert matter. I shall argue that the alleged inconsistency should instead be understood as reflecting the GA’s overall plan of exposition, which makes IV 3 the final refinement of definitions of male and female advanced provisionally in Book I. I propose to locate GA IV 3 within two larger contexts of a carefully constructed exposition. Most immediately, IV 3 belongs to the sequence of argument beginning at the start of book IV dealing with sexual differentiation. But the issues in IV reach back to the very beginning of the GA and the definition of male and female as stated there (which raises but postpones the question of parental resemblance). Scholars who regard Aristotle’s account as inconsistent—and even many who don’t—have failed to appreciate the progressive unfolding of an Aristotelian exposition.

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WILLIAM WIANS

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WILLIAM WIANS

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William Wians

In his fine paper on the aims of Aristotle’s methods, Sean Kirkland suggests that Aristotle practiced a proto-phenomenological approach to truth. In doing so, Kirkland reminds us of the lived dimension of Aristotle’s philosophizing, an active and ongoing response to the world that begins long before the emergence of philosophical concepts and systems. I am in sympathy with much of what Kirkland argues. However, I think more needs to be said about the relationship between dialectic and demonstration, and about the precise nature of dialectic itself, which Aristotle characterizes as a form of deductive argument, rather than the loose collection of inductive techniques implied by Kirkland. Aristotle shows a remarkable sensitivity to the complexity of searching for principles, and the variety of means by which the search is conducted, implying a need for a discourse on methods, though he himself supplies it only unsystematically. 


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Colloquium 10

Commentary on Lloyd

William Wians

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Colloquium 7

Commentary on Salkever

William Wians

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William Wians and Ron Polansky